May 26, 2015
M is for “maestra”, the Spanish word for teacher. I’m used to being called this and actually like it. It is an expression of respect.
In my first year of teaching, a Latina who was the head of the bilingual department for the district told me (and other bilingual teachers) that we should discourage the students from calling us “maestra” or “teacher” and encourage them to use our title and last names (Mr. or Ms. So-and-So). She said this was the proper thing to do in American society. In our culture, use of a title plus a last name is the way you address someone to whom you should show respect and deference, such as your boss or some other older person you don’t know very well. I know this is true because it is what my parents always told me to call their friends.
Things have become more informal these days and in the workplace it’s now common to call one’s boss by his or her first name. Still, the formal address hasn’t gone out of fashion completely.
Here’s my counter-argument to the Latina administrator: In Mexican culture (and the majority of my students are at least ethnically Mexican) teachers are highly respected professionals, probably more so than in the U.S. Parents tend to believe what teachers say about their children, because they have gone to college and received the training to become teachers. Many parents in Mexico have not had that opportunity; the majority of my students’ parents never went to college at all. Many didn’t graduate from secondary school. Still, they value education and so they respect and admire what teachers do for their children.
I had a student once who had just moved here from Mexico and spoke no English. Yet there she was on open house night, clutching her mother’s hand with a determined look on her face, showing her around the school and her classroom. Later that fall, her father cried during our parent-teacher conference because he missed his homeland so much. It had been hard for him to leave his family, his friends and everything he knew to come to the U.S. But he did it so his daughter and son could have a good education, a chance at a better life. I fell in love with that little third grader, who grew in three years into a beautiful and confident fifth grader, by then quite comfortable speaking and reading in English.
So I am happy to be called “maestra” (or even “teacher”). One thing I will miss after retirement is hearing the voices of children crowding around me, trying to get my attention with, “¡Maestra! ¡Maestra!”